We take a look at all of Nas' triumphs, missteps, and under-appreciated gems.

This feature is a part of Complex's Nas Week, presented by Hennessy.

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Come September 14 Nasir Jones will have been on Earth for 40 years, a lifespan more than half of which has been spent on record. Those who knew him as a teenage rapper spoke of him as some kind of urban monk: a young poet touched by divine wisdom. He released his debut album, Illmatic, at the age of 20, and was both blessed and cursed by the ensuing acclaim.

Even 20 years later Illmatic is still treated with a combative level of affection. To understand the reverence it commands in the hip-hop world you’d have to compare it to The Catcher In the Rye, or A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man, or King Lear. The way some bloggers talk about it, you’d think it was all those things rolled into one.

And maybe it was. And maybe young Nas was a monk touched by the hand of God. But in the years that followed Illmatic, we also came to realize that he was a human being. Capricious, reckless, contradictory—he refused to become an idealized version of himself just because that’s what rap fans desired of him. Like anyone else, he was free to make mistakes, and he made a lot of them. But the fact that he infuriated so many diehard fans didn’t seem to bother him much, and that made us love him more. So let's look back at all of Nas' albums with clear-eyed vision and single out the classics, the duds, and the overlooked gems.

Written by Sam Sweet 

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